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Are 'Slumdog' Child Actors Still Poor "Slumdogs?"


For the most part, any news of backlash and protests among Indians regarding the possibly offensive title and unflattering depiction of widespread Indian poverty in the Oscar-nominated hit Slumdog Millionaire has been largely overshadowed by reports of national pride and gratefulness for the film's immense success.

But this week, the U.K. Telegraph reports that Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Ismai, two of the child actors in the film, remain in poverty despite their international acclaim (Rubina plays the youngest version of Latika, and Azharuddin is the young Salim). The child actors’ parents have accused the hit film’s producers of exploiting and underpaying the eight-year-olds, who live in uncertainty with their families in one of India's most squalid slums.

According to the children's parents, Rubina was paid £500 and Azharuddin received £1,700. They argue that they were paid less than many Indian domestic servants. But distrubutor Fox Searchlight disputed this, saying the fees were more than three times the average annual salary an adult in their neighborhood would receive (without disclosing the actual amount they were paid). However, the Telegraph also reports, "The children received considerably less than the poor Afghan child stars of The Kite Runner, who embarrassed their Hollywood producers when they disclosed that they had been paid £9,000."

From the Telegraph's "Slumdog child stars miss out on the movie millions":

Rubina and Azharuddin live a few hundreds yards from each other in a tangle of makeshift shacks alongside Mumbai’s railway tracks at Bandra. Azharuddin is in fact worse off than he was during filming: his family’s illegal hut was demolished by the local authorities and he now sleeps under a sheet of plastic tarpaulin with his father, who suffers from tuberculosis.

“There is none of the money left. It was all spent on medicines to help me fight TB,” Azharuddin’s father, Mohammed Ismail, said. “We feel that the kids have been left behind by the film. They have told us there is a trust fund but we know nothing about it and have no guarantees.”

Further down the tracks, an open sewer trickles past the hut that Rubina shares with her parents, older brother and sister.

Danny boyle The distributors, producers, and director Danny Boyle have disputed the claims, and point out that they have helped the children in many ways, including trust fund, school enrollment, and health care. Portions of their statements are quoted in the Telegraph story, but we are posting them in their entirety here:


From the moment that we hired them and long before the press became interested in this story, we have paid painstaking and considered attention to how Azhar and Rubina's involvement in the film could be of lasting benefit to them over and above the payment they received for their work.

The children had never attended school, and in consultation with their parents we agreed that this would be our priority. Since June 2008 and at our expense, both kids have been attending school and they are flourishing under the tutelage of their dedicated and committed teachers. Financial resources have been made available for their education until they are 18. We were delighted to see them progressing well when we visited their school and met with their teachers last week.

In addition to their educational requirements, a fund is in place to meet their basic living costs, health care and any other emergencies. Furthermore, as an incentive for them to continue to attend school a substantial lump sum will be released to each child when they complete their studies. Taking into account all of the children's circumstances we believe that this is the right course of action.

Since putting in place these arrangements more than 12 months ago we have never sought to publicize them, and we are doing so now only in response to the questions raised recently in the press. We trust that the matter can now be put to bed, and we would request that the media respect the children's privacy at this formative time in their lives.

Danny Boyle and Christian Colson


The welfare of Azhar and Rubina has always been a top priority for everyone involved with Slumdog Millionaire. A plan has been in place for over 12 months to ensure that their experience working on Slumdog Millionaire would be of long term benefit. For 30 days work, the children were paid three times the average local annual adult salary. Last year after completing filming, they were enrolled in school for the first time and a fund was established for their future welfare, which they will receive if they are still in school when they turn 18. Due to the exposure and potential jeopardy created by the unwarranted press attention, we are looking into additional measures to protect Azhar and Rubina and their families. We are extremely proud of this film, and proud of the way our child actors have been treated.

Fox Searchlight Pictures, Fox Star Studios, Pathe International

Slumdog Millionaire has won four Golden Globes and is nominated for 10 Oscars, among other awards and nominations, and has become a surprise worldwide box office success. It seems clear that Boyle and the producers have made great efforts to help their young actors -- and responding to these allegations by throwing more money at the kids probably isn't the best solution anyway -- but couldn't they find a way to take a more proactive approach to getting these cute and talented youngsters out of the slums for good?

It is also possible that, similar to cautionary tales like Macaulay Culkin, the children's parents have simply taken and spent whatever money was paid, and are now hoping for more. At the Indian premiere of the film last week, though, Rubina seemed hopeful for her future, saying: "I want to be a star... I am going to ask Danny-uncle (director Boyle) to take me to London and be in more films."

Read the full Telegraph story here.

Cameron mackintosh In other child labor news, parents of the children featured in Sir Cameron Mackintosh's London production of Oliver! complained last week that the young actors are not being paid enough for their work. Each child is paid £20 per performance.

"The children in Oliver! are actually being paid, which they aren't in a lot of other shows," Mackintosh said, according to the Telegraph. "It costs an absolute fortune to have all these children. It is the most expensive element of the show because you have chaperones; parents are coming; travel expenses; you have to put them up in London, pay for a hotel..."

And if any of the children or their parents remain unhappy, Mackintosh says simply: "We have a queue a mile long of children who want to be in it."

-- Daniel Lehman

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